Story: Layla’s story

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Layla was extremely shy at school. Unlike most other three-year-olds, she was not yet speaking at all, so communicating with others was very difficult.

To try and improve matters, Layla’s nursery teacher suggested she should take part in the new Family Literacy Project being run at her school. The project, which is funded by SHINE, aims to raise the literacy attainment of disadvantaged nursery children in South Yorkshire by working alongside families in their homes.

An early years practitioner arranged to meet Layla and her mum in their home. They decided that during the visit, they would focus on developing speech and language and introducing books.

During the first visit, they read stories and nursery rhymes. The practitioner brought puppets with her to make the experience more fun. Both Layla and her mum enjoyed the session, and Mum promised to carry on with the literacy activities before the next visit.

The practitioner’s presumption that Layla’s mum potentially be difficult to engage was proved to be completely wrong.

The next time the practitioner came, it was clear that she had done as she had promised.

“I thought ‘wow, Mum has done so much with Layla’,” the practitioner said.

Each time she visited, the practitioner introduced more fun and engaging activities that would encourage Layla to read. They also started with some basic writing exercises.

Layla loved the visits. She and Mum continued doing the exercises they had worked on and began to develop a love for books.

The practitioner was surprised, and extremely pleased, with Mum’s involvement and engagement, specifically, with the way in which she engaged with books and reading with Layla.

She became skilful in the way in which she used questioning during these shared-reading experiences.

It became clear how invested she had become when she asked to keep one of the books for longer than originally planned.

After the third and final session, Layla was able to do many things that she couldn’t do before.

She was now speaking clearly, using four to six words.

With her new-found communication skills, she was asking questions and making comments about books, pointing to different parts of the pictures if asked and telling stories about the pictures.

She had begun pretending to read to her teddies and could identify different parts of the book, such as the front cover, spine, title, and author.

She was now showing an awareness of reading – immediately wanting to be involved if mum picked up a new book – and enjoyed acting out parts of stories in her play and with mum.

Furthermore, she was now holding her pen correctly and writing the first letter of her name on a whiteboard, and she was able to spot letters within a text and could say the sounds rather than the letter name.

To ensure that the project had a lasting impact, the practitioner made suggestions to the family about what activities they could continue to do.

She suggested that Mum should continue to read stories with Layla, ensuring that she takes an active involvement in the stories through questioning and making comments.

And she encouraged Mum to continue to read nursery rhymes and use the puppets to act out the rhyme, practising writing letters and modelling good speaking and listening with Layla.

The sessions have built a new connection between Layla’s mum and the school. Layla’s new-found interest in reading and improved communication skills will stand her in great stead as she moves into primary school and beyond.